|Me, Crazy Cousin and Nonni|
We had our weekend routine. On Friday night Gram would go to Bingo and Poppy and I would go grocery shopping. I loved getting to help fill the cart and he always let me pick out whatever junk foods I wanted. Then we would go to McDonalds and get Happy Meals and head home to watch The Dukes of Hazzard. I know for sure there were shows Poppy would rather have watched. Probably anything else. But, he knew I loved Bo and Luke Duke and the General Lee so every Friday night we watch "our show." When Gram got home from Bingo we would have ice cream. It was a late night treat. They always had ice cream, always. It was the Breyers chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry combo. So you could pick 1, 2 or 3 flavors and then Gram would let me pour as much chocolate syrup and whip cream as I wanted. I stayed up until I was tired and slept as late as I wanted in the morning. Then Poppy would make me french toast for breakfast and I spent most of the day in jammies watching tv. Gram got a cable box way sooner than my parents or friends. So she had tons of channels to choose from, I loved it!
More often than not I would end staying over on Saturday nights. And when my brother was old enough he would usually come over on Saturdays too. In the afternoon Poppy and I would go church. I remember kneeling in the pews of that old cathedral and thinking how much I loved spending time with him. I knew it was special. I can still smell his Old Spice aftershave that he wore just for church. I remember being 6 years old and watching Poppy receive the Eucharist and I was determined to have that for myself. I was so proud the first Saturday after my First Communion when I could finally get the Eucharist with Poppy!
On Saturday nights we played games. Gram taught us to play pinnacle and poker and Go Fish. She would bring out all of her nickels that she kept in a big jar and we could use the money to make bets. Looking back now I can't help but laugh at that!! They had a snack cabinet filled with all "sugar cereals" that my brother loved. Gram would let him fill a salad bowl with cereal and pour as much milk as he wanted. He would eat coco puffs and fruity pebbles and frosted flakes all mixed together. It was all the cereals my mom never bought so the weekend at Gram's was extra special! She also kept a large supply of Fig Newtons and packs of gum. My mom couldn't stand gum chewing or chomping as she always said. But, Gram didn't mind. And she didn't get mad when I would get it stuck in my very long hair. One time she spent a good part of the afternoon combing gum out of my hair and using peanut butter to try to salvage as many strands as possible so my hair wouldn't have be cut off. She was a determined lady for sure!
When we got older my brother and I still stayed over pretty often. My bother stayed especially close with Gram in his teens and 20's. During high school he and his friends would skip out of school and head to Gram's for lunch. We aren't sure if she realized they had left school without permission or if she bought the idea that the school let them out early. But, she was a smart lady and I have to believe she knew the truth and didn't admit to it because then she would have to make them go back to school. There was nothing Gram loved better than feeding people, so breaking the rules or not she was feeding those teenagers!
Most Sundays we went to Gram and Poppy's for dinner. Usually my brother and I were already there anyway so my parents would come over at dinner time and hang out too. Dinner always included pasta which was and is still my favorite. And always a meat. Gram was a carnivore for sure. She and my brother shared a love for steak! And she always reminded us not to fill up too much because we had to save room for dessert. Gram loved desserts, Poppy did too. I don't know how she stayed so thin, but she loved her desserts. I take after her in my love for sweets, just wish I had her petite figure too! One of Gram's greatest recipes was her Icebox Cake. Layers of pudding separated with graham crackers. Nothing quite compares to the perfection of gooey graham crackers and pudding. She would make it for Sunday gatherings and birthdays or have Poppy drop one off at our house if someone was sick. Years after Gram passed away I had my first miscarriage and I remember crying in bed and wishing I had some of her icebox cake. My Poppy heard about that request and showed up at my door with an Icebox Cake he made for me. I cannot explain what a healing balm that warm pudding cake was. After that I found the strength to get moving again.
Gram and Poppy are gone now. And sometimes I miss them so much. There are days that I think I might take ride over with the kids and visit. Then I remember they aren't there. I know Gram would have loved spoiling these little ones. Especially Luccio who is named for her.
I am grateful to still have my Nonni, my Mom's mom. I have always been very close to Nonni and used to spent a lot of time with her and Grampa when he was alive. I was very fortunate that my Mom stayed home to raise us so I had a lot of opportunity to spend time with my family even during the week. We went to Nonni's a lot. When I was very little we lived right next to her house and I went there daily. As I got older I still spent a lot of time with her. When I slept over she would take me and my Cousin Tracy aka Crazy Cousin to Bingo with her. Tracy and I are 9 months apart and growing up we were together a lot. We loved Bingo nights with Nonni. She used to take us Downtown too. Back when it was safe to ride on public transportation and hang out on the town green. We would shop and then feed the pigeons in the park. I remember Nonni brushing our hair and braiding it. Tracy and I used to complain because our hair was waist length and Nonni used a metal comb! But, she sure did know how to make the best ponytails!! And the best sauce in the world. NOTHING even comes close to Nonni's pasta sauce. There is no written recipe for it and she can show you how to make it but it never comes out quite the same way twice. My son Vincenzo loves his Nonni's sauce so much. Nothing makes an Italian great-grandmother prouder than watching her great-grandson enjoy her pasta.
When I was old enough I used go on trips to the Casino with Nonni and Grampa. We had such fun times! We would go with my mom or aunts and cousins, sometimes we would stay over. Grampa loved the Penny Machines! He really came alive at the Casino. At home he would often look like a little old man. He would snuggle on his couch and be content to sit in the background while all the women in our lives would chat around him. He was a man of few words. But, when he did have something to say it was always witty and had us laughing! When he stepped into the casino he was like a young man again and had such a spring to his step. I still remember his cute little smile and great sense of humor! One time I convinced him to go shopping with me at the Casino gift stores. He told me he didn't go to the Casino to shop, but then took a detour into one of the stores and bought me a beautiful Native American doll. He was so proud and it was such splurge, everything in those stores is so expensive but these dolls were just outrageously priced and he was like a little kid filled with happiness buying one for me! I still have that doll and cherish it so much. It reminds me of all the fun times I had with Grampa.
I have been so fortunate to have had Nonni there for my birth and still with me this year as I celebrated my 37th birthday. Now that I have my own daughter we are 4 generations of women when we are all together. I pray that we have more years together and that my children will have memories of her that they will carry with them and treasure.
It is funny the things that you remember and cherish as you grow older. Sometimes it is the slightest thing that will bring all of these wonderful moments flooding back. The smells, sights, tastes and sounds that stay with you forever. I love watching my children create new memories with their own grandparents, Stregga & Papa and Grandma & Papa. And I am so blessed to have had so many great years with my Gram, Poppy, Grampa and Nonni. Now I feel like making a pot of sauce and an icebox cake!